“Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats.” (Romans 14:20, ESV)
Throughout the Scriptures, we see this theme of giving up on our own desires for the sake of the work to which God has called us and this includes our relationships with others. Jesus exhorted us to deny ourselves, to take up our cross and follow him (Luke 9:23). John wrote that Jesus set the standard for loving others by His own sacrificial death on the cross (1 John 3:16). Paul wrote to the Galatians, that we were called to freedom but we were not to use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh but rather to serve one another (Galatians 5:13).
In this chapter of his letter to the Romans, Paul has been dealing with the issue of freedom and disputable areas. Some have convictions that certain things are permissible and others have convictions that those same things are not proper. He tells us that in these disputable areas, we are not to judge and we are not to distain those with opposite convictions from ours. Rather, he desires that believers would seek the higher ground of that which makes peace and mutual upbuilding with others. To do this, we must manifest the love of Christ that God has placed in our hearts by the work of His Spirit.
So, what will this look like in the area of disputable things? It will mean sacrifice of one’s own wants and desires. We have much freedom in Christ. There are many things that are not specifically forbidden in the Scriptures, but are considered by others as taboo. In Paul’s day, some had a problem with eating meat and drinking wine and others did not. It seems this same debate is at large in Christendom today. And as I mentioned a few posts back there are many other areas also.
As believers, we are to consider the needs of others as more important than ourselves. Paul states in verse 21, that it is good, beneficial, for one who has freedom not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that would cause a fellow Christian to stumble. Here, I like the KJV better as it translates more literally, “It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.” (Romans 14:21, KJV 1900)
We must be careful in the exercise of our Christian liberty in disputable areas because in this we may cause our fellow believer who does not have liberty to stumble in his Christian walk, to sin against his own convictions or be made weaker in the faith. Thus, even though we may enjoy things in the disputable areas, love compels us to sacrifice of our own pleasures so as not to negatively influence our brother who does not have liberty in those areas.
For example, let us say that you have no problem drinking a glass of wine with dinner. Yet your brother in Christ does. Well, the last thing you would want to do is invite him to your house and then pour a glass for him. He might have a personal conviction about alcohol or he might even have an addiction to it. In such a case, you may cause you brother to stumble. Take the higher ground and forsake your own wants and desires for your brother’s sake.